No, I’m not talking about the upcoming election, even though that’s plenty frightening in its own right. When I start thinking the only candidate who makes any sense is Phillip Morris Napier Thu Peoples Hero, it may be time for me to start running for office myself. I could even manage my own campaign. Just consider the jingle I wrote about the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate (sung to the tune of “Davy Crocket”): “Chandler, Chandler Woodcock, king of the wild frontier. Chandler, Chandler Woodcock, vote ‘n’ go get your deer.”
What is really making me scared, however, is the advent of Halloween and, more specifically, trick-or-treating. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not the type that draws the blinds and turns off the lights and locks the doors at the first hint of dusk on October 31. That’s because I’ve never had to. During my pre-house adult life, I mostly lived in spooky-looking, ramshackle Victorian apartment buildings that I had trouble luring even friends near, let alone strange children. I could leave my lights ablaze and be assured no junior hobo or harlot would ever darken my doorstep. On the off chance the doorbell might ring, it would be on a dare – some terrified kid racing up and down my steps with nothing but a graze on the ringer. But that would be further supposing I ever lived in a neighborhood that had kids on the street, which I have not.
Buying a house and moving to the ‘burbs changed all that. You can’t live on a friendly street and lurk behind darkened windows on Halloween, unless you want to be known as that neighbor – which, with my Gladys Kravitz tendencies, I’m already close to becoming. Part of the deal (another part they don’t tell you about) is that when you become a homeowner in a neighborhood, you are expected to, well, participate: stand merrily (and freeze) on the porch when the carolers come by, pile your cans high for the postal workers’ food drive, not duck into the bushes when your neighbor pulls into her driveway, and not bolt the door when a political candidate comes up your walk (well, actually, that’s OK; but you have to be quick).
I’ve been doing OK adjusting to most of these things, but not so with trick or treat. In the two Halloweens we’ve been in our house, I’ve made John go to the door, while I hovered in the shadows, spying – which, come to think of it, is pretty creepy. But it’s all I can muster. You see, I had a bad Halloween/house experience that left scars I just can’t get beyond…
I’d just returned to the East Coast from San Francisco. I was broke, had no work, no prospects, and had just ended my relationship with my then-SF boyfriend. (I cried the whole plane ride home; don’t you love getting seated next to people like me?) My sister-in-law’s parents had both passed away the prior year, and their house, which was situated in a sparsely populated, wooded exurb of Boston, was sitting vacant in a flat sales market. Letting me stay in the house would help out for insurance purposes and would give me a place of my own to fall apart. I moved in on October 30.
Honestly, I didn’t notice my day of relocation. I wasn’t exactly what you would call “plugged into the real world” at that juncture of my life. Getting out of the fetal position required most of my energy. Looking at a calendar was beyond the pale.
Sometime during the afternoon of my second day there, I realized it was Halloween, but not until it was already starting to get dark. I knew I had to spring into action. I went into “town” (this burg of 900 was so tony, the only businesses around were real estate offices) to the sole provisioner: the very un-tony McArthur’s Meat and Liquors. There was no Halloween candy, per se, only a couple bags of assorted miniatures that had probably been sitting there since the last time Thoreau breezed through town.
This was no time to be picky, however. I forked over the last of my disposable cash for the week or the year (whatever the paltry amount, it seemed like a princely sum at the time), went home, dumped the Hersheys and Mr. Goodbars in a bowl by the door and braced myself.
That’s when it started to rain. Hard. Do you know what a downpour on a strange house located in the middle of nowhere in which two people have recently died sounds like to a woman of a compromised mental state sitting alone inside it on Halloween night? It sounds like a deluge of regret and remorse howling in the wind and raining down on her head, which is why I got caught off-guard when that first batch of revelers arrived. By the time I figured out how to unlock the front door and was able to find the porch-light switch, I was stricken. I opened the door to what seemed like hundreds of reaching, grasping, groping hands. I lost my head. I thrust the bowl at them, instead of meagerly meting out one bar per tot, as I now know I should’ve. Worse, these kids weren’t even tots. They were big, and there were no friendly moms and dads waving from the lawn. Plus, they had rain ponchos over their costumes, so you couldn’t see what their rich parents had rented for them. They didn’t even say “trick or treat,” let alone “Thank you, poor, scared lady who just spent the last of her money on stale candies for us. We’re going home to tell our parents, who run Little, Brown and the Globe, all about you.” Nothing like that. They just grabbed.
I looked down at my nigh-empty bowl. I felt violated, cheated. I wanted them to march back out to the end of the driveway and do it over again, properly, with costumes visible and merry rounds of “trick or treat!” But they were gone into the black, wet night.
Despite my efforts to hand out the candy sparingly thereafter, it wasn’t long before I was wiped out. I had no recourse but to shut off the lights and retire to read by flashlight in the only room in the house not visible from the road: the bathroom.
I think that’s why this season scares me, though maybe it’s just the sound of the doorbell. You never know who’ll show up on your doorstep wearing a bow tie and coonskin cap.
If someone toilet-papers the Blaine House this Halloween, it wasn’t Elizabeth Peavey. (She’s more the shaving-cream type.)